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Don’t be too hasty to reopen country, consequences can be devastating – govt. MP



By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP National List MP Gevindu Cumaratunga yesterday (5) said that the recent decision to call all public servants to return to work from this week should be immediately reversed against the backdrop of alarming situation at hospitals treating Covid-19 patients. “Let us not play politics. Several hospitals have declared an emergency situation as the daily caseload and deaths go up.”

Appreciating the ongoing drive to inoculate the population, lawmaker Cumaratunga however asserted that perhaps the decision to restore public service to pre-Covid level should have been delayed.

Hours after MP Cumaratunga’s statement, the government said that the circular issued pertaining to restoration of public service to pre-Covid status would be amended.

State Minister Prof. Channa Jayasumana assured parliament yesterday that pregnant women wouldn’t be asked to report to work.

The government cancelled all previous circulars to pave the way for resumption of public service last Monday (2).

MP Cumaratunga, who is also Chairman of Yuthukama civil society group, said that reports received from several hospitals in Colombo, its suburbs and the provinces were quite alarming and distressing.

The prominent public interest activist said that the government shouldn’t hesitate to take remedial measures if it realized a particular decision could cause a catastrophe.

“If we aren’t cautious, the whole costly exercise to restore normalcy can be affected. Therefore, immediate precautions are necessary. Restricting movement of public servants is a necessity,” the MP said, adding that though the government recognized the need to address teachers’ grievances, those protesting groups shouldn’t act in a manner that undermined safety measures.

A fresh major Covid-19 eruption could be quite devastating, the MP said, pointing out how the national economy suffered during this period. “We shouldn’t risk everything by re-opening the country, too, soon,” the lawmaker said. Having suffered unbearable losses, the national economy couldn’t take further blows, MP Cumaratunga said, while appreciating the decision not to present the Kotelawela National Defence University Bill on Friday (6) in the wake of continuing protests.

Cumaratunga stressed that Yuthukama too submitted amendments as it didn’t accept the Bill for obvious reasons. However, the MP cautioned those who had taken to the streets not to contribute to the epidemic. Referring to ongoing teachers’ strike, the MP said that the situation was so dicey that no one, whatever their political affiliations, could jeopardize current health guidelines.

MP Cumaratunga said that careful examination of the health situation was necessary and no one could act contrary to the advice given by health authorities. A delay on the government’s part to respond to what the MP called a worst case scenario could trigger a crisis that might cripple the country. Better to reverse the decision to speed up the re-opening process than causing the population harm, he added.

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Self-Employed Traders petition SC over govt. favouring liquor dealers



By A.J.A Abeynayake

The Supreme Court has decided take up, on 04 Oct. for hearing a petition filed by the Association of Self-Employed Traders against the opening of liquor stores during the current lockdown.

 The traders have requested the apex court to order the government to allow members of their union to engage in business activities since the liquor stores had been allowed to reopen during the lockdown.

The petition was taken up before a three-judge bench comprising justices L. T. B. Dehideniya, Shiran Gooneratne and Janak de Silva, yesterday.

 The State Counsel appearing for the respondents said he had received the relevant documents pertaining to the case only last Friday evening. Therefore, the State Counsel requested the court to give him time to seek advice from the respondents who were many.

Attorney-at-Law Eraj de Silva, appearing for the petitioner at the time, said about 7,000 members of his client union had lost their livelihoods due to the decision by the respondents.

Therefore, Attorney-at-Law Eraj de Silva requested the court to give an early date for considering the petition.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court decided to take up the petition for consideration on 04 Oct and directed the lawyers of the petitioners to take steps to send notice to the respondents before that date.

The petition was filed by the President of the United National Self-Employed Trade Association G.I. Charles, its Vice President P.G.B. Nissanka, and Secretary Krishan Marambage.

The petition names 47 respondents, including the Director General of Health Services, the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of Excise.

The petitioners allege that under the quarantine law, the Director General of Health Services, who is the competent authority, issued a notice on Aug 20 prohibiting the opening of liquor stores.

The petitioners point out that steps were taken to open liquor stores countrywide contrary to the regulations of the Health Authority.

The Director General of Health Services, the Commissioner General of Excise and the Inspector General of Police have stated that they have not allowed the reopening of liquor stores.

The petitioners have also requested the Supreme Court to issue an order to the respondents to allow the members of their association to engage in business activities as the liquor stores are allowed to remain open.

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Lankan born newly elected Norwegian MP Gunaratnam calls for investments here



Newly elected Norwegian Labour Party MP, Lankan born Kamzy Gunaratnam says she will ask the new Norwegian government to continue engagement with the country of her birth.

 Speaking at a virtual media conference on Sunday night, Gunaratnam said that she does not believe that boycotting Sri Lanka is the way forward.

“I don’t believe in boycott. There needs to be investments. Only that will ensure employment,” she said.

Gunaratnam said that she is also prepared to meet President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, if invited, for talks.

She said that Norway must continue to assist Sri Lanka through trade, education and in other ways.

Gunaratnam said that she will also discuss with her party and the new Norwegian Foreign Minister, as well as the Norwegian Ambassador in Sri Lanka and see how best Norway can assist the country.

Gunaratnam said that Sri Lankans must also decide the best solution for Sri Lanka and not any foreign country. She said that Sri Lanka must not wait for foreign pressure to work on a solution.

The newly elected Norwegian MP also said that minority rights in Sri Lanka must be protected.

As a Norwegian MP she said that her main focus in the Norwegian Parliament will be to push for equality in Norway.

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Going to IMF best solution, says Ranil



UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe insists that a programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is necessary to mitigate impact of the growing debt repayment crisis; homegrown solutions are not effective.

“Unlike in the past, Sri Lanka’s debt problem has increased at a time when there is a global debt problem. This makes the situation more challenging and complex. Sri Lanka is a highly import-dependent economy,” Wickremesinghe said during a panel discussion, organised by the International Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka on Saturday.

The UNP leader said that the government shouldn’t sell state assets to ease off the shortage of foreign exchange to have breakfast but reinvest those proceeds back in the economy. “Going to the IMF is the best solution,” Wickremesinghe said.

With reference to homegrown solutions, he referred to the mess caused by the government in promoting Dhammika peniya as one of the failed measures earlier on to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The former Prime Minister said that Sri Lanka should use the current situation to forge ahead with structural and public sector reforms which were postponed due to political considerations in the past.

The former PM suggested that the re-opening of the country be delayed till mid-October.

In responding to the issue of debt management in Sri Lanka, the UNP leader said that the most pressing concern is addressing the dwindling foreign exchange reserves of the country.

He explained that the regional foreign exchange reserves were projected to increase over the course of the year, however, Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange reserves were on a downward trend.

He also said that economic recovery based on a resurgence of the tourism industry would be uncertain, and until airline ticket prices were reduced it was unlikely that tourist arrivals would increase significantly.

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